Blog Post

Beyond Alignment: Earning a Seat at the Table to Advance DEI and Business Goals Alike

By Subha Barry
February 17, 2023

To truly integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into an organization’s DNA, DEI leaders and teams must focus on understanding their organization’s business strategy, challenges, pain points, and successes. This requires DEI leaders to serve as a trusted partner to CEOs in building DEI programs that deliver results for the business and for DEI objectives, while getting leadership buy-in and changing hearts and minds at every level. Earning and keeping a seat at the “table” as a trusted partner and problem-solver is not always simple, but achieving this will make it that much easier to harness the power of historically excluded talent and enable lasting change that makes the organization stronger as a result.

I was recently joined by Scott Nycum, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion, and Giving at GDIT, for a conversation about going beyond alignment in DEI work and why it’s critical to be in lockstep with senior leadership in advancing DEI goals. I first spent time with Scott at Seramount’s inaugural CDO Collaborative executive retreat, and it was evident that he is extremely strategic and thoughtful in his approach in building a business case for DEI within the organization. It’s not just be about it being the “right thing to do.” You can never lose sight of the fact that you need to continually reinforce the business case if you want to make a lasting impact.

Here are prime examples of how Scott Nycum and the leadership team at GDIT are aligned on DEI progress while driving business goals:

Build a Pipeline for Your Organization’s Future

At Seramount, we often talk about the importance of creating opportunities for rising leaders in an organization, particularly those from historically excluded groups, to demonstrate their business acumen and to be recognized as active problem-solvers to leaders within an organization.

GDIT did just that by creating a Rising Leadership Program that provides development and visibility for mid-level, high-potential leaders with the goal of building a diverse leadership pipeline. But before it could be implemented, Scott had to use his relationship capital with the executive team.

“I had to do my work, canvassing every member, every corner of the organization, and learn what’s going on…How are you contributing to our success? Where is a pain point for you?” said Nycum. By consulting and understanding the business needs of the organization, a program brought to light challenges that this diverse-by-design cohort would study for 12 weeks.

This cohort would then “bring back solutions that our executive team was highly interested in. We were not giving this rising leader program a series of problems that we already knew. We didn’t know how it would end. We gave them the problem at the beginning of 12 weeks, and at the end, they had been on this large diligence exercise, all the while learning leadership and networking and other skills we thought were important to future leadership,” he told me.

GDIT now has a pipeline of 50 people who have had this experience by demographics. “They’re two to three times more diverse than our leadership,” Nycum added. Plus, they now have a robust set of solutions that their executive team has been drawing on to strategize how to move forward in the business…accomplishing a couple of things at once that are highly relevant to our future,” said Nycum.

Become a Student of Your Organization and Earn Your Seat at the Table

Integrating DEI into an organization’s business strategy is a two-way conversation between the DEI team and senior leadership. Even when both have the best of intentions, if no connection is made, there can be no progress.

At GDIT, there is a true partnership between the DEI team and its president, Amy Gilliland. Amy is a leader who is focused on building that inclusive culture, but she is also commercial. It’s about both, and she and Scott have a relationship based on mutual respect and trust.

“The relationships we have with each other, particularly our senior leadership and DEI leaders and practitioners, is the space we need to figure out and forge the paths that make sense for our organization. We can’t guess at where we are positioned, and we can’t hope that our leadership will buy in if we can’t have the very deep conversations about the kinds of things that the business or the organization is struggling with or where we have a strength,” explained Nycum.

But having a seat at the table allows GDIT to move the needle even further when it comes to DEI. “I try to instill both for my team: that earning and keeping a seat at the table is our primary responsibility. That helps our strategy take hold,” he said.

Becoming a student of the organization is key. Figure out who drives the strategy, where the funding lives, and who greenlights (or sunsets) programs and priorities, he advised. But it’s about understanding the various issues across the organization and what leaders are facing. “I must keep earning my seat at the table by adding value and meeting at the intersection of my priorities and the other leaders’ priorities,” he said.

Finding that point of intersection and connectivity between what a DEI team is trying to help a leader solve and what they are trying to solve is important, and if you lead with that, you’re not trying to get them to do something you want to have done. You’re trying to solve a problem that they have. Once that is established, a foundation of trust is built. Leaders then become the owners of DEI, and the DEI team becomes the consultant, helping them navigate the dynamic world of DEI.

To gain access to the On-Demand webinar where Scott Nycum and I discussed these important concepts, click here.

Learn More About the CDO Collaborative

To understand if your organization’s DEI priorities are a good match for the CDO Collaborative conversation, please contact Martha Baum.

About the Author

Subha V. Barry
Subha Barry